seclusion”, with only rocks and stones and trees for company. Haworth Parsonage was on the edge of the moor but it was not secluded; there was a village attached. Four miles away was Keighley, which, as Gaskell points out, with its “great worsted factories” and “rows of workmen’s houses”, could “hardly be called ‘country’”.From the bonny beck to the kitchen sink and Heathcliff to the angry young men, Frances Wilson explores the personality of writing from the north of England, while Philip Maughan asks how the land lies today. (...)
I identify the north of my childhood reading with the heritage north catered for by the refurbished Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth and the dinky reconstruction of Wordsworth’s cottage in Grasmere. (...)
“We had the temerity to think we could write,” said Barstow, “but [with] no teachers and no models.” Heathcliff and Rochester had morphed into the daydreaming William Fisher in Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (1959), the upwardly mobile Joe Lampton in Braine’s Room at the Top (1957), Vic Brown in Barstow’s A Kind of Loving (1960) and the angry young Frank Machin, who leaves the pit to play league rugby in David Storey’s This Sporting Life(1960). (...)
Both Gaskell and Dickens set their stories in Manchester, which Dickens called Coketown and Gaskell called Milton. While Dickens wrote from the position of a Londoner, Mrs Gaskell, who now lived in the great Cottonopolis, understood, as Charlotte Brontë said, “the genius of the north”. (...)
Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), written as a homage to her friend after her death, fuelled the myth of the elemental northern writer. The book begins in wailing wind, with a description of the Leeds and Bradford railway running through “a deep valley of the Aire”; Gaskell arrives in Haworth on a “dull, drizzly, Indian-inky day”.
The Brontë family is described as carved out of the landscape – as Ted Hughes, raised on the Pennine moorland would also seem – and Charlotte’s story is told as though she were a character from one of her novels. Yet the Brontës had already constructed their own mythology.
In a letter to Wordsworth, Branwell Brontë had said that he, like the poet, lived in “wild
The Brontës’ model of the Romantic life came from the biographical sketches of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy by Thomas De Quincey, a Mancunian – a scandalous series of articles written for Blackwood’s Magazine in 1837. Today, Wordsworth is largely presented as the asexual spokesman of leech-gatherers and idiot boys but De Quincey described the poet, who was bourgeois to his marrow, as barely civilised and semi-incestuous. With his teeth bared and his eyes flashing, Wordsworth was fuelled by “animal appetites”. Dorothy, who her brother would kiss on the mouth, was also “beyond any person I have known in this world . . . the creature of impulse”.
Emily Brontë, who read Blackwood’s Magazine, surely based her tale of barely civilised and semi-incestuous siblings on this account of the Wordsworths. When I read Wuthering Heights, I am reminded of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journals, in which she describes the two and half years that she lived alone with her brother in Dove Cottage, before he married and was transformed from a wild, Heathcliff- like figure to a gentleman resembling the priggish Edgar Linton. The nature of Dorothy’s love for William, which is hard for us to understand, is replicated in Cathy’s well-known des cription of her love for Heathcliff. Less a pleasure than a necessity, it is like “the eternal rocks beneath”. (Frances Wilson) bronteblog
The delight of Dorothy's Grasmere journals, consigned to four notebooks between May 14, 1800, and January 16, 1803, is summed up in such passages as these.
Infuriating, because Dorothy seems such a drudge, ironing, washing, planting, mending and baking, despite the headaches and bad bowels that send her early to bed; a woman who can translate German and snatches moments to read Shakespeare, who can catch the poetry in a scene before William, but whose life is bound up in cooking chops for him and soothing his hypochondria.
And disturbing, because her devotion to him goes further than a sister's usually does. How much further? That is the nub of Frances Wilson's sympathetic but intrusive study. Her account homes in on the three hectic, intense years covered by the journals, when Dorothy was at once her brother's servant, amanuensis, companion, eyes and ears. Within the journals Wilson's focus rests on two deleted sentences, describing what happened on the morning before William married Mary Hutchinson in October 1802: "I gave him the wedding ring - with how deep a blessing! I took it from my forefinger where I had worn it the whole of the night before - he slipped it again onto my finger and blessed me fervently." Those last few words might have read, "as I blessed the ring softly". As Frances Wilson says, the fervour is the same. Her book begins, and virtually ends, with this scene.
Other journal entries draw attention, too: Dorothy's admission that she "petted" William "on the carpet", her emotion when she sees his half-eaten apple core, her descriptions of his breathing, his shirts and his "cool & fresh" smell. Analysis of the relationship, with commentary from Freud and Camille Paglia, so dominates the book that poor Dorothy cannot admire the moon or the hawthorn blossom, or comment on the light or the rain, without revealing something about William and herself.
Walk-worn boots, mud-caked skirt and all, she is laid firmly on the couch.
Yet, thankfully, this is also a book informed by delicacy and common sense: the central chapter on incest is probably the best. Wilson's conclusion is that William and Dorothy were "finding and losing themselves in each other", in a devotion that was not sexual and which, in fact, survived William's marriage largely intact. It lasted through to Dorothy's half-mad old age, when her brother began, at last, to wait on her. telegraph/Dorothy-Wordsworth